Just what are we looking at?
We'e entering a future that won't be recognizable to any of us
The cheap-and-easy way to enter into this discussion would be to reprint W.B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming,” but can you think of a more tiresome way to do so? I can’t. On the other hand, the fact that that poem applies to humankind’s pickle more deeply and broadly with each passing year - no, make that day - is a testament to its sobering prescience.
I’ll just say this: It’s folly for any of us to proceed with life based on assumptions about some kind of immutable stability. Those days are over, folks.
Take the global scale. Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi had a summit just before the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, out of which came a statement asserting that the unipolar world order in which the United States has been the guarantor of general peace and an economic environment in which nearly every nation in the world has seen at least some kind of uptick in prosperity is being replaced. In their formulation, their nations are now going to shape the international arrangement more so than the US.
And then came the Olympics, with NBC Sports giving the opening ceremony a notable soft-pedal (“China sees itself as a champion of the developing world”) and corporate sponsors doing all they can to obscure their complicity in the monstrousness of the CCP regime, and Eileen Gu humiliating the United States by skiing for China.
And then came a level of brinkmanship from Russia not seen since the 1940s. The much-speculated-about false flag/pretext is underway, is it not? The car bomb in Donbas that blew the vehicle to smithereens left the region’s security chief riding in it unscathed. The odds that that wasn’t orchestrated? Ceasefire violations in Ukraine’s east have soared in the last week.
The West, as represented by NATO and the OSCE, seems fairly unified in its resolve to do what it can to thwart Putin’s aims, whatever they may be, but if his aims include seeing how badly he can destabilize the Baltic states and Poland - not unreasonable to consider, given the Russian troops lined up on the Belarusian border - what’s the plan?
Some kinds of libertarians and lefties have gotten upset over the last 60 years about US involvement in conflicts in various regions, but the fact is that, for all intents and purposes, no one alive today has seen great-power conflict on the scale that generations before the one that is currently our oldest saw fairly regularly. And the reason for this unprecedentedly long period of relative peace? The US guaranteed it.
Is the foreign-policy team we now have the best and brightest we could be assembling to address the present moment?
The person at the very top seems to be handling the Russia-Ukraine situation reasonably well so far. His address on Saturday (February 19) afternoon seemed to indicate a grasp of the gravity. But his disastrous bungling of the pullout from Afghanistan is fresh in our collective memory. He’s also not at the top of his game in terms of mental clarity or physical stamina.
Vice President Harris comported herself well enough at the Munich conference, but she really didn’t have to do much but talk tough. Blinken’s been standing firm, but we haven’t seen him tested in more dire circumstances yet. Ditto for General Austin.
The American people are too polarized, distracted and exhausted to show a unified front to the world.
The geographic sorting by ideology has political implications. The enclaves left and right become Petri dishes of confirmation bias and send ever more extreme politicians to Congress, shrinking Capitol Hill’s middle ground to the point at which legislative productivity becomes nigh impossible.
True, the recent recall of three San Francisco school board members served notice to Democrats that a certain degree of wokeness is intolerable, but even nice, middle-class Democrats with everyday careers and lives still advocate for sociocultural upheavals that seemed off the charts less than a decade ago.
And one must now speak of two Rights. The older of the two, the one that had its heyday in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, has largely been sidelined by the grotesque phenomenon that has been at the forefront since 2015.
Regarding the recent grassroots movement to confront school boards in communities across the nation, it seems to be peopled mostly by those who have not particularly been forthrightly ensconced in either camp vying for the conservative mantle, but you can be damn sure the populist-nationalist types are itching to co-opt them. It would make for yet another issue on which they could elbow what had been recognized as conservatism out of the arena, if once-recognizable conservatism is found asleep at the switch.
While one must be careful about defining distinct periods of history, there are agreed-upon eras that have ushered in new ways the human species has engaged the world and interacted with itself. Every civilization has such eras. In the West, some have included the Hellenic period, the Middle Ages, the Industrial Revolution, and the period of Pax Americana, which appears to be concluding before our eyes.
Some aspects of the present scene - the fracturing of our society and the flatlining of our culture in particular - ar new, but one is quite old. Despot-led expansionist powers had been the norm throughout human history. The comfort, convenience, relative safety and the luxury of an unthreatened freedom that we have taken for granted throughout our lifetimes has been a hiccup.
Part of human nature has involved the urge to advance materially, but that’s only part of the picture. It’s time to look at the whole picture. We can now see that human nature doesn’t change, and that’s going to have day-to-day implications for us all.